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And A-Begging I Will Go / The Begging Song

[ Roud 286 ; G/D 3:488 ; Ballad Index K217 ; Wiltshire Roud 286 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl recorded To the Begging I Will Go in 1966 for his Topic album The Manchester Angel; this track was also included on his CD The Definitive Collection and on Topic Records' 70th anniversary anthology Three Score and Ten. He commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Most of the versions of this song still current in Scotland differ only in matter of detail from the one printed in Ford's Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland, where its authorship is attributed to Alexander Ross (1700-1783). A black-letter copy of an English version appears in The Bagford Collection of Ballads. where it is described as The Beggars Chorus in A Jovial Crew, 1641, a play by Richard Brome, who, in addition to being a minor dramatist, acted as Ben Jonson's servant. Chappell, in his Popular Music, observes that the song does not appear in the printed text of the play and suggests that it was probably an actor's interpolation. Both the Scots versions and the 19th century Lancashire version given here have stanzas in common with Brome's song.

Martin Carthy sang And A-Begging I Will Go accompanied by Dave Swarbrick in 1965 on his first album Martin Carthy. Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick rewrote it with new lyrics sharing the tune, chorus and first verse with the older version, as The Begging Song for their 1990 live album Life and Limb. This was reissued on the compilation Rigs of the Time: The Best of Martin Carthy and on the World Music Network anthology The Rough Guide to English Roots Music. Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick also played this on their 1992 video 100 Not Out. An extended live version is on Dave Swarbrick's album Folk On 2: Dave Swarbrick's 50th Birthday Concert (1996); this track was re-released on the anthology The Carthy Chronicles.

Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

A version of A-Begging I Will Go was introduced into Richard Brome's A Jovial Crew in 1641 (says Chappell), not being in the printed copy of the play, and another version was incorporated by Playford in his 5th book of Choice Ayres in 1684 but it is commoner in Scotland than in England. Begging really was a trade in Scotland when the King distributed alms to an order of paupers known as ‘Bedesmen’ who in return were supposed to pray for King and State. They were licensed and the King had one bedesman for every year of his life, a new one being added each year rather like the system of Maundy money still practised in England. In Scotland a general respect for the beggars hung on long after the actual practice died out. This is an English version from the singing of Ewan MacColl.

and in the Life and Limb. sleeve notes:

The Begging Song is a reworking of something which has been around in various forms for three or four hundred years, a version of which I learned in the sixties from Ewan MacColl (and so did a few others). Not that the old song is a failure, more that the re-appearance of beggars on our streets as a matter of course warrants, I think, a more present response from the rest of us.

Malcolm Douglas noted in the Mudcat Café thread Child and Waterson/Carthy:

A-Begging I Will Go isn't related to any Child ballads; it seems first to have appeared as The Beggars Chorus, a stage-song in Richard Brome's A Jovial Crew, perhaps not in the original production (1641), but in a revival of it, c. 1684. (Refs. Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, 1859; Simpson, The British Broadside and Its Music, 1966).

Harry Boardman sang To the Begging in 1965 too on the Topic album New Voices, and Enoch Kent of The Exiles sang Tae the Beggin' in the same year on the Topic album New Voices from Scotland. A.L. Lloyd commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

What was it in Scots history that gave the beggar such an important place in society across the Border? Nearly all the good songs about beggars are Scottish in origin and this one is no exception though a version of it was printed in London in 1719, in Vol. III of Durfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy. This version was obtained by Ewan MacColl from Beckett Whitehead, an amateur local historian and geologist of Delph, near Oldham.

Bob Davenport sang A-Begging I Will Go in 1975 on his Topic album Down the Long Road, and with the Rakes in 1997 on their Fellside CD The Red Haired Lad.

The Battlefield Band sang Tae the Beggin' in 1978 on their Topic album At the Front.

Bob Fox and Stu Luckley sang And A-Begging I Will Go in 1978 on their Rubber Records LP Nowt So Good'll Pass. They re-recorded in in 1997 for their Fellside CD Box of Gold.

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band recorded a rousing version of their The Jovial Begger on their 1996 album Hang Up Sorrow and Care.

Frankie Armstrong and Brian Pearson sang To the Begging in 2000 on her Fellside album The Garden of Love. She commented in the liner notes:

Brian's young son Ieuan visited Scotland for the first time just before we made this record. He fell in love with the country and with this song, which he heard on the car stereo. So Brian stuck together verses from two or three Scottish and English versions and recorded it as a present for him.

Magpie Lane sang A-Begging I Will Go in 2002 on their CD Six for Gold. They commented in their liner notes:

Beggars are often portrayed in the popular press as idle, workshy scroungers, who choose this “trade” as an easy way of making a living. Such views are not new, but date back at least to Tudor times. Meanwhile, songwriters and poets more frequently give an idealised, romantic view of beggars, gypsies and all those who live a travelling life.

The earliest version of A-Begging I Will Go was printed on a black-letter broadside in 1684, and used in a ballad opera, A Jovial Crew, or the Merry Beggars. Versions survived in oral tradition for almost three hundred years in England and, especially, in Scotland. It's now, of course, a staple of the folk revival.

We have combined the song with the dance tune Grimstock which was printed in the first edition of John Playford's English Dancing Master in 1651.

Broom Bezzums sang the Begging Song on their 2008 album Under the Rug.

Bellowhead, who begged Benji Kirkpatrick away from Magpie Lane, sang A-Begging I Will Go in 2010 on their CD Hedonism. This track was also included on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2012 sampler. And Jon Boden sang it solo as the September 24, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day, noting in his blog:

Can't remember when I first heard this song but I know it best from the brilliant Magpie Lane CD Six for Gold. Magpie Lane are something of a supergroup in Oxfordshire, but relatively unknown elsewhere. Well worth checking out.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings And A-Begging I Will Go on Martin Carthy

Of all the trades in England the beggin' is the best
For when a beggar's tired he can lay him down and rest

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And a-beggin' I will go
And a-beggin' I will go

I've a pocket for my oatmeal and another for my salt
I've a pair of little crutches that should see how I can bolt

There's patches on my fusty coat and a black patch on my eye
But when it comes to tuppenny ale I can see as well as thee

My britches they are no but holes but my heart is free of care
As long as I've my belly full my backside can go bare

I've been deaf at Duckinfield and I've been blind at Shaw
And many's the right and willing lass I've bedded in the straw

There's a bed for me where'er I lie and I don't pay no rent
I've got no noisy looms to mind and I am right content

I can rest when I am tired and I heed no master's bell
You men'd be daft to be a king when beggars live so well

(repeat first verse)

Martin Carthy sings The Begging Song on Life and Limb

Of all the trades in England the beggin' is the best
For when a beggar's tired he can lay him down and rest

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And a-beggin' I will go
And a-beggin' I will go

I got on the train in Carlisle they kicked me out at Crewe
I slept on every paving-stone from there to Waterloo

I got breakfast off the Embankment I got my lunch and tea
And only the finest cardboard made a home that was fit for me

We sit on the stair at Leicester Square from seven o'clock till ten
Then round the back of the Connaught House for dinner from out of a bin

I can rest when I am tired and I heed no master's bell
A man'd be daft to be a king when beggars live so well

The law came down to see us they came down three together
They put out the fire they left us there Oh Lord how we did shiver

I am a Victorian value I'm enterprise poverty
Completely invisible to the state and a joy to Mrs T

Of all the trades in England the beggin' is the best
For when a beggar's tired he can lay him down and rest

Martin Carthy sings The Begging Song on Folk On 2

Of all the trades in England the beggin' is the best
For when a beggar's tired he can lay him down and rest

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And a-beggin' I will go
And a-beggin' I will go

I was on my bike round Carlisle I went everywhere south to Crewe
I slept on every paving-stone from there to Waterloo

I got breakfast off the Embankment and that was my lunch and tea
And only the finest cardboard made a home that was fit for me

We sat on the stair at Leicester Square from seven o'clock till ten
Then round the back of the Connaught Towers to dinner from out of a bin

There were three young fellows jumped out of the rubbish, they'd clipboards all a-flutter
They said Poverty has its pluses, you know, and you could present it better

For we've got funds and we've plans, and we've got time in hand
So we're launching a drive for the market place to take begging to all the land

For we're Poverty PLC we are, we'd have you all to know
And everyone says that our share of the market will grow and grow

Then they dressed us in all of their merchandise—'d a logo all over my hat
It said Poverty rising above the time—but the others all thought it said Prat

Now I can rest when I am tired I heed no master's bell
A man'd be daft to be a king now beggars can live so well

For I'm a great Victorian value I'm enterprise poverty
Completely invisible to the state and there for all to see

Of all the trades in England the beggin' is the best
For when a beggar's tired he can lay him down and rest

Bellowhead sing A-Begging I Will Go

Of all the trades in England the begging is the best
For when a beggar's tired he can lay him down and rest

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And a-beggin' I will go
And a-beggin' I will go

I've a pocket for my oatmeal, another for my salt
With my little crutches you should see how I can bolt

There's patches on my coat and on my right eye too
When it comes to pretty girls I can see as well as you

My trousers are all ragged and my heart is free from care
If I can eat and drink m'boys my backside can go bare

There's a bed for me in every town and I've no rent to pay
There's many a right and willing lass I've bedded in the hay

I've got no tax to pay and I heed no master's bell
Who would be a king when a beggar does so well?

(repeat first verse)

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's first version was transcribed by Garry Gillard. The place names are now fixed, thanks to Ed Pellow! Thanks to Susanne Kalweit and Seth Kurtzberg for further corrections to the transcription.

Garry Gillard thanks the Digital Tradition and Wolfgang Hell. Another DT thread about this song has begun, 17 September 2000. Attempted transcription of the Folk On 2 version by GG with corrections from Ian Harvey-Pittaway: many thanks.